Inside Opinion

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Tag: Sandy Hook


2013 Legislature must deal with mental illness

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

People with untreated mental illnesses don’t fund political campaigns or employ powerful lobbyists. It was easy for Washington and other states to skimp on their care after the economy went south five years ago.

It’s taken a whack with a two-by-four – an onslaught of preventable assaults and murders – to persuade some lawmakers that psychiatric care for the poor is not a luxury that can be dropped in hard times.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the catalyst. The killer may or may not have suffered from a psychosis, but – following other atrocities in Colorado and elsewhere – he taught the country how dangerous a disturbed man with a deadly weapon can be.

Three priorities need action from Legislature this year: care, involuntary commitment and access to guns. The three are closely interconnected.

Above all, the state must provide more therapy options to more people. People with serious psychiatric disorders tend to be poor, for obvious reasons. Few can afford the intensive treatment and continuing care they need.

Mental illness should not be equated with threat. The vast majority of those who live with some kind of disorder are harmless. But a small fraction – notably males with schizophrenia, a history of drug abuse and a record of violence – account for more than their share of attacks on others. They are especially prominent in mass shootings.

Lawmakers can lower that threat through simple humanity, by making psychiatric care more accessible to everyone who needs it but can’t pay for it. That means expanded outpatient therapy and case management, and it may mean restoring beds at Western State and Eastern State hospitals.
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To prevent gun violence, pick battles carefully

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Vice President Joe Biden, noted for his bloopers, made a cogent and critical point Wednesday about upcoming congressional battle over gun restrictions.

“We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong, to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”

“The usual suspects” presumably means the liberal, urban folks – often Easterners – who have dominated gun control advocacy over the years with a spectacular lack of success. Many are hostile to guns in general and can’t comprehend why anyone would own one.

Biden didn’t go quite this far, but we will: The success of gun legislation will largely depend on the support of people who lawfully own and enjoy firearms, but don’t share the absolutism of National Rifle Association leaders and other hard-liners.

Those gun owners will buy aggressive new measures to keep firearms out of the hands of the wrong people. But any attempt to criminalize their own weapons will trigger a ferocious political backlash.

This argues against attempts to categorically ban “assault weapons.” Such legislation is likely to fail – and could take more important measures down with it.

It is notoriously difficult to define what an assault weapon is. Even the AR-style rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre was nothing special mechanically. Remove its black, collapsible stock, pistol grip and extended magazine, replace them with a brown wooden stock and smaller magazine, and it would look and act like an ordinary hunting rifle of modest power.

Millions of law-abiding people, many of them veterans, simply like the military-style accessories. So be it. Some quarrels are worth spending political capital on. This isn’t one of them.
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What happened to the C-word? (as in gun control)

The search term “gun reform” now gets nearly a half-million hits on Google. (I’m sure it’s been around, but I don’t recall hearing it until after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre a few weeks ago.)

Example: Greg Sargent in the Washington Post:

Another term on the rise is “gun safety.” Keyword “gun safety” and “connecticut” to get more than a half-million hits, many of them post post-Sandy Hook.

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, talk about “solutions for gun violence,” “responsible changes in our laws,” “common-sense solutions” and “reforms to reduce gun violence” in their USA Today oped.
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One teacher’s take on arming educators

Arming teachers? Andrew Milton, who teaches eighth-grade English teacher at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, doesn’t like the idea:

Rep. Liz Pike from Camas has expressed her intent to offer a bill that would allow teachers carry concealed weapons in the classroom. In general, such a law is a bad idea because it’s such a knee-jerk reaction to the recent school shooting, and, as is often the case, the knee-jerk overrides wisdom.

No gun violence has ever occurred without a gun present. Introducing more guns (even if legally so) raises the prospect of gun activity. And it’s way too easy to imagine scenarios where a legally introduced gun ends up creating difficulties where an absence of guns would have created no such difficulty.

For instance, one likes to imagine that an adult with a gun could have made a very different at Sandy Hook. But that situation is a real outlier. According to, in the last 20 years there have been 386 shooting events at schools (and universities) in the US. This includes interpersonal disputes that happened to play out at a school, accidental shootings, suicides at school, shootings near schools and events without fatalities. Suicides are more frequent than Sandy Hooks and Columbines. (The web site even lists as an episode a prematurely born baby dying at a hospital near a school–no gun even mentioned. In other words, the number 386 is counting episodes very different from Sandy Hook.)

The tragedy of Sandy Hook notwithstanding, the day to day reality of school is much more complicated. And day to day, the presence of guns creates risks that wouldn’t be there without guns.
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The best of people, the worst of people, in 2012

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Like every year before it, 2012 brought out the good and evil in human nature. The theme never changes, just the particulars.

The generosity of strangers sometimes seems boundless. After Jacoby Miles, a 15-year-old gymnast, was paralyzed in a practice accident, supporters raised more than $150,000 on her behalf and began an overhaul of her South Hill home to accommodate her disability.

An elderly bus monitor, Karen Klein, experienced a similar shower of generosity last summer after several boys on her bus were caught on video viciously tormenting her for more than 10 minutes.

When the video went viral, more than $700,000 in donations poured in. The bullying couldn’t be undone, but roughly 32,000 Americans wanted at least monetary justice. In a corresponding display of generosity, Klein has since been donating the money to an anti-bullying initiative.

If only bullying were the worst 2012 had to offer.

The year has been marked by shocking attacks on helpless children. In Pierce County, the worst came 11 months ago, when Josh Powell set himself and his 5-year-old and 7-year-old sons ablaze in a Graham-area house. That completed the destruction of an entire family; the boys’ mother had disappeared earlier. There was no one left to console with gifts or other assistance.

Two weeks ago, in an even less comprehensible crime, a mentally disturbed 20-year-old gunned down 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Why the children?

Last March, a U.S. soldier reportedly perpetuated a similar massacre in Afghanistan, killing 16 Afghan villagers, at least nine of them children. That distant atrocity struck painfully close to home: A Bonney Lake man, Sgt. Robert Bales, was charged with the murders. The criminal proceedings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are being followed throughout the world.
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